Story at a glance
- Gov. Cuomo announced a new program that will eliminate millions in student debt.
- Using funds from the American Rescue Plan, some eligible students will also be able to receive pandemic financial support.
- Total U.S. outstanding student loan debt amounts to about $1.6 trillion.
On Thursday evening, New York state leadership announced the forgiveness of up to $125 million in unpaid student debt for about 50,000 students who graduated from the City University of New York (CUNY) system.
Launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), the initiative, dubbed CUNY Comeback Program, is novel not only in the amount of student debt that is eliminated, but it also offers financial relief for graduates who experienced financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The school system’s board of trustees approved the use of $125 million in federal stimulus funds to pay off student debt in early July. An estimated 50,000 students will receive a further stimulus sum.
The average debt balance for a CUNY student is $2,000.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused hardships in the lives of so many New Yorkers, and our students were among those most impacted," Cuomo said. "This landmark new program eliminates millions of dollars in unpaid debt, providing much-needed relief to tens of thousands of CUNY students as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic and plan for their futures."
Statewide, there are 25 CUNY campuses.
The fund aims to relieve student debt and current financial hardship of communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as Black and Latino alumni from a CUNY school.
The outstanding student debt to CUNY almost doubled during the pandemic. By relieving students of their loan amounts, the Comeback Program aims to remove the financial barriers to help more graduates build wealth.
"CUNY students showed their great resilience in the face of the immeasurable hardships they faced over the past 16 months, from employment and income loss to food and housing insecurity, amid an unprecedented health crisis that brought sickness and tragedy to thousands of New York families," said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. "This compassionate action will allow CUNY students and recent graduates to move ahead in pursuit of their educational and career objectives without the specter of unpaid tuition and fees."
Rodríguez added that eliminating the outstanding debt for students will help New York’s economy recover as well.
Qualifying students must have been enrolled in a CUNY school since March 13, 2020 — the date COVID-19 was declared a national emergency.
Intense pressure has been placed on government officials to forgive student loan debt as the national balance of outstanding debt amounts to $1.6 trillion.